Stop calling your pets your children. Stop. Don’t call yourself a “dog mom.” Don’t introduce your Labrador as your daughter’s “older brother.” Don’t refer to your cats as your kids. Don’t do it. Stop.
You see this a lot among the childless urban Millennials who haven’t found the will to settle down, commit, or have kids. Cats will fill the void. Dogs too, so they think. “We’re living the child-free life!” Good luck! Fill your thirties with the exploits of people half your age. And when you hit forty, go to the pound and “rescue” another pit bull that will have to be put down in five years due to the trauma it suffered as a pup. When you’re fifty, you’ll have banked enough money to spend a few summers in Ireland or doing river cruises through France. Congratulations! And as you’re pushing seventy, alone again, since your marriage was just a piece of paper, you’ll wonder who is left to visit your un-rotted body as it roams the halls of a nursing home. Hopefully your life was a productive one, since it yielded no blood.
But who cares? Today, you have your cats. Or your dogs. Wonderful creatures! Your high school buddy just had a kid—you sure feel sorry for him! Late nights, up changing diapers. Gross! You can still hit the club at one in the morning and have an animal back at home looking happy to see you. What will he have, other than a poop-filled undergarment and a head full of screeches? You’ll probably get to babysit the kid as he gets a little older, and you’ll try to convince yourself you have the better deal—after all, you aren’t the disciplinarian and at the end of the night, and you get to hand that hassle of a kid back to his mom and dad. But deep down, you’ll feel that twinge of regret: I could have been a disciplinarian. When dad looks down at his son and tells him it’s time to go home, you’ll hear it in the back of your head: that could have been me.
I just spent all week in the hospital watching over my firstborn. He was born 6 weeks early and, understandably, needs a bit of NICU care for a while. He’s got some pretty tough and resilient blood running through his veins, and he’s already showing what he’s made of. Hopefully he’ll be well enough for us to take him home ahead of schedule. And as small and frail as he is, when he stretches out his limbs and looks around with his enormous black eyes, what I see there is the beginning of what I hope to be is a long, good life. I don’t know what exactly his future holds. He might become an athlete, a scholar, a mechanic. I hope he becomes a father himself, when the time is right. God forbid he becomes a journalist.
But your dog will never grow up to become a doctor or an accountant. You will never share a drink with him on the eve of his wedding, or fight with him about the people he hangs out with in high school, or coach him on mathematics when he’s six years old. You will never teach your dog to hold a paintbrush, point out what a spark plug is, or reprimand him for failing to finish his vegetables. Your dog will never catch a baseball for the first time, after missing the last a half-dozen, and look at you with wonder as he pulls it out of the glove and readies to return the pitch. Your dog won’t go on to do and accomplish things beyond your wildest expectations.
Your dog will wag its tail, show undying loyalty, and love you until he dies. He can be a good dog. He can be a great dog. He can hunt the mice in your lonely home and bark angrily at trespassers outside. He can whine when he wants to go for a walk and he can act territorial around other dogs and even human beings. But that’s all he’ll do. He’ll be a dog. A thing can never be more than its nature. A dog never be more than a dog.